IDF closes probe of kids killed on beach, looks into Gaza cafe bombing
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IDF closes probe of kids killed on beach, looks into Gaza cafe bombing

9 deaths in Khan Younis to be examined; beach deaths said to have occurred when children mistaken for naval forces in area exclusively used by Hamas

An IDF artillery piece firing toward Gaza during Operation Protective Edge (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
An IDF artillery piece firing toward Gaza during Operation Protective Edge (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

The Israeli military’s chief legal official opened three new criminal investigations into actions during 2014’s war in the Gaza Strip, the army announced Thursday night.

In a statement the army also said it was closing a number of investigations, including a probe into a shelling of a Gaza beach that left four children dead on July 16.

The main incident to be probed by Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni involves allegations concerning a military bombardment of a café in Khan Younis that resulted in the deaths of nine Palestinians, the army said in a statement.

The July 10 bombing killed fans who had been watching a World Cup semi-final between Holland and Argentina, according to eyewitnesses.

“The boys ate their Ramadan iftar meal there, and then began watching the match. It is not a military area,” a local policeman told AFP at the time.

The two other incidents include one case in which the Israel Defense Forces troops had allegedly fired tank shells at a medical clinic from which terrorists had been firing, resulting in the death of an IDF officer the previous day, and allegations of the abuse of a detainee captured by the IDF.

Seven criminal investigations have already been opened into soldiers’ actions during the summer campaign, including the bombing of a United Nations school that, according to Palestinians, killed 21 civilians and injured dozens.

Efroni also said three cases had been closed following examination, including a probe into the deaths of the four children on the Gaza Strip coast, which occurred in front of a hotel housing Western journalists and caused worldwide uproar.

Eyewitnesses said the four children had been playing on the beach and tried unsuccessfully to outrun the shelling.

Efroni said the area that was hit had been a known base for Hamas naval forces, who used the area exclusively.

The children, entering the compound at a running pace, were mistaken as Hamas’s naval forces, he said.

“It was decided to conduct an aerial attack against the figures which had been identified, after all the necessary authorizations for an attack had been obtained, and after a civilian presence in the area had been ruled out,” Efroni stated. “Tragically, in the wake of the incident it became clear that the outcome of the attack was the death of four children, who had entered the military compound for reasons that remain unclear.”

After a review of the investigation’s findings, the Military Advocate General found that the attack process in question “accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements.”

In April, the Military Prosecution filed an indictment with a military court last against three soldiers suspected of looting from the homes of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip during the summertime war.

It marked the first case of charges pressed against IDF troops who participated in combat in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.

A man inspects the damage to a house following a rocket attack by terrorists from the Gaza Strip on the Israeli town of Yehud, beside Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, on July 22, 2014. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A man inspects the damage to a house following a rocket attack by terrorists from the Gaza Strip on the Israeli town of Yehud, beside Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, on July 22, 2014. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The soldiers were accused of stealing NIS 2,420 (about $617) from an apartment in the Gaza neighborhood of Shejaiya, while the third soldier allegedly assisted in the crime.

The two soldiers were also accused of obstruction of justice in the indictment.

The 50-day war is said to have killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, many of them civilians, according to Palestinian sources in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip; and 73 Israelis, including 66 soldiers.

Israel said about half of those killed in Gaza were combatants and blamed Hamas for all civilian casualties, since it placed military infrastructure in residential areas.

Israel launched the operation in Gaza last summer in what it said was a mission to halt relentless rocket fire by Hamas terrorists. Hamas seized control of Gaza in a violent coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007. An Islamist terror group, it is committed to destroying Israel.

Defending the summer operation as an act of self-defense, Israel blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian death toll, saying the terror group used residential areas for cover. But critics have pointed to the heavy Palestinian civilian death toll and questioned whether Israel’s response was proportionate.

Israel has also come under fire from critics who say it fails to thoroughly investigate its military operations or prosecute soldiers for abuses. Israel says it does investigate its actions, although those inquiries rarely lead to criminal punishment.

Following a similar operation in Gaza in early 2009, the army convicted four soldiers on various charges, including looting, improper use of a weapon and life-endangering conduct. The most serious sentence was a three-and-a-half-month prison term.

Jonathan Beck and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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